Crowdfunding for CBT-based smartphone app goes down to the wire

Even if he doesn't quite get over the line through crowdfunding efforts for his MoodMission app, Monash University PhD student David Bakker still plans to develop the concept as an easy, intuitive way to help people learn better ways of coping with low moods and anxious feelings.

Mr Bakker, who has been developing the app over the past 18 months with his supervisor at Monash Nikki Rickard, is currently trying to raise the last $6000 or so of a $20,000 target on crowdfunding site Pozible.

While there is a plethora of apps out there promising to help with mood and well-being, including some that use techniques like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), Mr Bakker said the point of difference with MoodMission was that no matter what problem you have, you can go to the app and tell it what the problem is, and it will come up with a potential solution for you.

“There are lots of apps out there that claim to do relaxation or they claim to boost your mood through well-being activities, but these are apps that often aren't validated, or they have extremely limited evidence,” Mr Bakker said.

“Users also need to know a little bit about what your problem is before you use the app. They usually worked the best if a psychologist recommends them to you, but not everyone has a psychologist to recommends, so this is taking a role in trying to be very flexible and very responsive to how the user feels, and then directing them to some strategies that will help.”

Mr Bakker said MoodMission is designed to be used by anyone, whether they have a clinically significant anxiety or mood disorder or just want to find ways of coping with day-to-day feelings of anxiousness or low moods.

“It will also be a powerful tool for psychologists to use with their clients, particularly in regards to motivating clients to complete CBT homework, mindfulness exercises, and other activities outside of therapy,” he said.

The concept of MoodMission is that users can report their low moods or anxious symptoms to it, and it will then recommend five useful, brief, easily achieved coping strategies to help the user deal with negative thoughts, feelings or behaviours.

These could be relaxation strategies, cognitive reframing exercises, physical activities, or anything else that evidence shows can lift moods or reduce anxiety, Mr Bakker said.

Users choose one of these “missions” and when they have completed it MoodMission rewards them with points, badges and other achievement acknowledgments. These rewards can promote positive psychological health through boosting self-esteem and feelings of mastery.

To correspond to CBT practices, users also report how they feel after they have completed the mission. This enables MoodMission to suggest missions in the future that have had more past success. Psycho-education is also employed throughout.

While there are also many apps out there of little worth, Mr Bakker and Associate Professor Rickard plan to experimentally validate MoodMission via a randomised controlled trial to ensure that it is effective.

The duo are also shortly to release MoodPrism, a mood tracking app for researchers. “It has been submitted to the App Store and we are awaiting it for it to be approved,” Mr Bakker said. “It is very much a research tool and the first stage for that will be for us to disseminate in it through research streams.”

The Pozible campaign has so far raised just over $14,000 of the target $20,000 but time runs out on Saturday. Even if he doesn't quite get over the line, he does plan on developing the app in the future but he is intent in making it a free download.

“There's a barrier when you start charging any sort of money for an app and that stops people from seeking help, which is what it comes down to in the end.”

Funds raised will go towards coding the software with help from Spark Digital, a Melbourne-based app development firm that worked on the hugely popular Smiling Mind, a mindfulness meditation app that has been downloaded almost one million times. It is now being used widely in schools and organisations around the country.

Posted in Allied Health

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